The national light bulb switch-over takes its last big step next Wednesday, when businesses will no longer be allowed to make or import 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent bulbs. They still can sell them as long as supplies last, but new bulbs will be the more expensive CFLs, short for compact fluorescent lamps, or LEDs, light-emitting diodes.
Indications are that people who prefer the high-heat, high-energy-using technology of the 20th century don’t have to rush out to stock up on incandescent bulbs. The phase-out of 100-watt bulbs that began in 2012 and of 75-watt bulbs in 2013 has been steady, but slow.
“We are now finally officially out of 100-watt bulbs,” said Tony Kozlowski, a sales associate at Valu Home Center in Lancaster. “We still have some 75-watts – we’ve had them for a year after they stopped making them.”
He said the store has seen no evidence of people hoarding the old bulbs.
Still, the newer LED Christmas lights have been particularly popular.
“It’s amazing how much less energy they use,” he said.
Energy savings are the main reason behind the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which also addresses fuel economy, biofuel development and building construction along with the standards for light bulbs. The incandescents used since the time of Thomas Edison, which expend 90 percent of their energy as heat and only 10 percent as light, don’t come close to meeting the federal guidelines, hence the phase-out.
CFLs use 75 percent less energy, it is estimated, and LEDs use 85 percent less.
Similar rules for light bulbs are in place throughout Europe and parts of Asia and South America.
The expense of CFL bulbs – 10 or more times the cost of incandescent bulbs – and the eerie blue glow of early versions led to initial predictions of mass consumer push-back, like the resistance that kept the United States from going metric in the 1970s. But that backlash never materialized on any large scale.
“Frankly, I thought there would be more kicking and screaming, and I haven’t seen that at all,” said Mark Buckley, a master electrician and owner of Power Play Electrical Contractors in Kenmore. “Most people I work with see the switch-over as no problem. They just go to the store with the idea ‘I’m going to get a CFL.’ They like the energy savings.”
At Valu Home Center, Kozlowski said a four-pack of incandescent bulbs sells for less than $2; one LED bulb could cost $15.
“But they last forever,” he said.
Buckley at Power Play Electrical Contractors noted the high cost of the LED turns off many customers.
“I haven’t gotten into the LEDs much because they’re still pretty pricey,” he said. “Customers will ask about them, but when I tell them the cost, it’s ‘What else have you got?’ ”
Kozlowski said most customers opt for the CFLs, which cost between $5 and $10. It helps that the bulbs now come in a variety of “light types,” he said, like warm white, cool white or daylight. The bulbs are long-lasting, but some consumers have seen them fail prematurely.
“It isn’t the bulb that burns out, it’s the ballasts that wear out,” said Kozlowski.
The ballast is the mechanism inside the base that operates the bulb. The problem comes because the high-efficiency bulbs, which can take anywhere from a second to a minute or two to come fully on, are designed to be turned on and left on.
Newer CFLs that meet Energy Star standards light up faster and last longer. The Energy Star website, energystar.gov, recommends using them in places where they will be on at least two hours per day, and where the fixtures allow air flow around the bulb. In other words, turn them on and leave them on until you’re done for the day or night.
Also, some CFLs do not work with rheostat switches.
“I remind people to make sure the box says the CFL will work with the dimmer,” Buckley said, “but some customers just have me change them to a regular switch so they don’t have to worry about it.”
Also, CFLs are not recommended for outdoor use in extreme temperatures.
Outdoor post lights, halogen lights, flood lights and other specialty bulbs are still allowed under the energy law. And because the CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, when they do wear out, recycling is recommended. Some municipalities accept the bulbs with hazardous waste collections that also include things like computers. Most Home Depot and Lowes stores have collection bins on site.
The key to choosing the bulbs is to read the packaging, making sure they are right for where you’ll be using them. Lighting designers also recommend replacing bulbs in all the fixtures in a room at once to keep the light consistent.